This week there were two significant developments on our issues–one good and one disappointing. The good news is that HB 358, which would have barred transgender girls and young women from participating in school sports designated for females, is dead. The disappointing news is that a bill to raise the marriage age to 18 with no exceptions (HB 41/SB 35) was gutted. The amended bill brings the existing law into line with the sexual assault statute– something that should have been done when the marital rape exemption was repealed–while retaining all of the archaic exemptions that allow marriage as young as age 14.
Speaker Moore announced that there will be no action this session on the bill (HB 358) to ban transgender girls and young women from participating in school sports designated for female athletes. He called the bill a solution in search of a problem, adding that he wasn’t hearing complaints. The decision to pull the bill and send it to the Rules Committee, where bills are sent to die, was influenced by strong public opposition to the bill and powerful testimony in the Judiciary Committee by courageous parents and children about the harm implementing the bill would do. Last week a bill that would have blocked transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming health care was also axed. Maybe the Republican leadership has learned something from the HB2 fiasco. See: https://www.cbs17.com/news/north-carolina-news/ncs-transgender-sports-bill-will-not-be-taken-up-in-2021-legislative-leader-says/
The bad news is that the bill that would have raised the marriage age to 18 with no exceptions (HB 41/SB 35) has been seriously gutted. This bill at first would have raised the marriage age to 18 with no exceptions. North Carolina’s marriage law currently allows marriage at age 16 with parental consent and at age 14 if there has been cohabitation, pregnancy or a child born to the parties who marry. The bill has been amended in committee to make the marriage age consistent with the sexual assault statute, something that needed to be done when the marital rape exemption was repealed. As amended, the bill would prohibit marriage of anyone under age 18 to anyone more than four years older. The provisions allowing marriage at age 16 with parental consent and at age 14 if there has been pregnancy, co-habitation, or a child born to the parties who marry are retained.
Christian conservatives opposed the original bill because they maintain that preventing marriage under the age of 18 would lead young women who did not want to give birth out of wedlock to seek abortions. Also, historically young teenage marriage has been so common in North Carolina that many legislators hesitated to vote for a law that would stigmatize these marriages by banning them. Several years ago a similar move to raise the marriage age was defeated in committee after a committee member asserted that his mother had married when she was 14 and everything worked out just fine.
For more information about legal underage marriage in North Carolina see: https://www.wral.com/nc-legislators-say-i-don-t-to-proposed-changes-to-2-marriage-related-laws/19650845/
See whole report at North Carolina NOW Legislative Update #14 – 3 May 2021